Does Peace Need a Business Plan?

Published: Wed 21 Feb 2018 09:57 AM
Does Peace Need a Business Plan?
By David Swanson
If you had just asked me if peace needed a “business plan,” I’d have replied, “Sure! Just like it needs a toupeed golfing fascist reality-TV creep in the White House! That’ll just about fix everything! War is over! Thanks!”
But after reading Scilla Elworthy’s book The Business Plan for Peace, I say, “Yeah, OK, that sounds pretty good, actually. Here, let me tweak it some!” In fact, I’ve added this book, despite some quibbles, to my bookshelf of war abolition advocacy. (Read em all! Send me others!)
The Business Plan For Peace: Building a World Without War by Scilla Elworthy, 2017.
War Is Never Just by David Swanson, 2016.
A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War, 2015, 2016, 2017.
War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo, 2014.
Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War by David Carroll Cochran, 2014.
War and Delusion: A Critical Examination by Laurie Calhoun, 2013.
Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand, 2013.
War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson, 2013.
The End of War by John Horgan, 2012.
Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac, 2012.
War Is A Lie by David Swanson, 2010, 2016.
Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry, 2009.
Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers, 2009.
Elworthy’s book makes the case against war that is somewhat familiar if you’ve read from the above list or perused the World Beyond War website or debated any West Point “ethics” professors (the rebuttals to the claims in support of war are sort of obvious to a lot of people who haven’t been paid not to see them). But Elworthy’s book does something unique. It lays out an array of initiatives that work to move the world toward peace and puts price tags on them. The list of 25 items includes such things as funding locally led peace building, supporting women’s organizations, and setting up truth and reconciliation commissions. It’s a great list, built on persuasive examples, including Elworthy’s involvement, in December 2002 – January 2003, in negotiating a peace plan for Iraq that Tony Blair declared “too late.”
Elworthy’s plan is a list that stimulates thought, which I hope is what was intended. Here are some thoughts I have. While Elworthy is clearly very open to recognizing the leading role that the Pentagon and NATO nations play in war making and in weapons dealing, she nonetheless mostly focuses on addressing war as something created by poor countries that in reality manufacture no weapons and suffer from Western “interventions.” I don’t want her to replace that with something else, but to shift emphasis. I think we must first go after the weapons dealers and the leading war makers and secondarily go after the conditions that create or facilitate war making in financially poor but resource rich places . Even in U.S. domestic politics, many have caught on to the need to stop the flow of guns to mass shooters first and worry about policies that lie somewhere between addressing conflict potentials and blaming the victims later.
One of Elworthy’s ideas is to build a physical building for peace work in each of the 10 most “conflict-affected” countries: Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria. I’m not against it. I think it’s a wonderful and creative idea, and it’s strengthened by Elworthy’s revelation that Germany has helped the African Union build a Peace and Security Department building. But I would propose that (1) the funding for each building come from the U.S. military budget for destruction of each country, and (2) a top floor be included in each building for luxury penthouses for white Western celebrities, which — from a business perspective — would radically decrease the overhead for insurance policies.
Addressing the Sunni-Shia divide makes it onto Elworthy’s list of top 25 things to do, while addressing the U.S./Hollywood culture of violence does not. Seriously? “The main cause of fighting is humiliation.” Really? So, why does Lockheed Martin buy all those advertisements in Washington, D.C.? Why not mock and embarrass people instead? (Of course, humiliation will show up as a big factor in a survey of violent prisoners, or in the recruitment of fighters in occupied countries, but does it explain any recent bombing campaigns?) Elworthy thinks Rwanda suffered from “an entire lack of action” rather than three years of a U.S.-backed Ugandan war followed by U.S. backing of a terrorist future president significantly responsible for many times the killing in the Congo as had occurred in Rwanda, though I’ve never ever heard anyone shout “Not another Congo!”
Keeping the glorification of terrorists out of world media does make Elworthy’s list. I agree only in part, because Elworthy would also have censored the crimes of Abu Ghraib, which was exactly the Pentagon’s scheme for avoiding accountability. I would agree with Elworthy on the value of truth and reconciliation commissions, and I think they could apply to many aspects of wars, including the wars themselves and atrocities like Abu Ghraib. But I don’t think they work in secret. I think crimes have to be exposed as part of a policy of preventing their repetition (and the risk of later exposure of a longer string of covered-up atrocities).
Of course, the big weapons-dealing and war-mongering nations could invest in good peace-building activities for a tiny fraction of what they spend making situations worse, if they came to favor what they are well-paid to oppose. This is what some items in Elworthy’s plan amount to. But her budget in these cases is not for the cost of implementing peace initiatives, but rather for the cost of the activism and education and lobbying that might persuade governments to pursue peace initiatives: lobbying the UN and NATO to fund the prevention of conflict (and stop starting conflicts?), researching conversion to peaceful industries, encouraging pension funds to divest from weapons, creating public education on the evils of weapons dealing, educating media outlets not to glorify terrorists, producing documentary films to defuse violent responses to terrorism and to welcome refugees, persuading wealthy countries to invest in poor ones. This is all exactly right, and much of it is just what World Beyond War and other organizations are working on with budgets that make Elworthy’s tiny proposals look enormous.
Now here come my quibbles. Elworthy relies a little much on some flawed institutions, some more deeply flawed than others. Starting with the smallest quibble: the Global Peace Index (GPI) ranks the United States near the peaceful end of the scale on the factor of military spending. It accomplishes this feat through two tricks. First, the GPI lumps the majority of the world’s nations all the way at the extreme peaceful end of the spectrum rather than distributing them evenly. Second, the GPI treats military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) or the size of an economy. This suggests that a rich country with a huge military can be more peaceful than a poor country with a small military. This is not just an academic question, as think tanks in Washington urge spending a higher percentage of GDP on the military, exactly as if one should invest more in warfare whenever possible, without waiting for a supposed defensive need. In contrast, SIPRI, on which Elworthy also relies, recognizes the dominant role of the United States as the far-and-away dominant leader in military spending — and in weapons dealing.
A bit bigger quibble: Elworthy recognizes the weakness of the United Nations which gives veto power in the Security Council to the five biggest dealers of weapons of death, yet she proposes working through an unreformed UN in numerous items on her list. I think we need a serious discussion about reforming or replacing this structure. Perhaps the Global Challengescompetition will produce a starting point. (I submitted an entry and am confident that others more talented did so too.)
Because Elworthy’s budget for peace includes both things governments should do and ways people can attempt to move oligarchic governments to do things, it’s tricky to compare it to the costs of war. But, as she makes clear, it is a relatively miniscule expense. Her total budget is less then $200 million per year. That’s 0.01 percent of the roughly $2 trillion spent on war and war preparations by the world’s governments each year, never mind the even greater cost of the damage and destruction done by wars each year. I think this minimal effort would show results such that any rational system would subsequently increase it. How that’s relevant to this world I couldn’t say. I think we need a much bigger investment in peace. In particular, I think the weakest link is the proposal to end centuries of Western war madness with five documentary films. Some darn good films exist. More would be wonderful. But how do we get people to watch them, believe they can act on them, act on them, and nonviolently escalate that activism? That’s the mission.
So, how is this a business? How does it make peace profitable? And should we describe peace in such terms? Well, Elworthy does point out the business advantages of peace, “especially for shipping, tourism, and insurance industries.” And we already know from the University of Massachusetts studies that military spending is an economic drain. But can our capitalist oligarchies minus weapons and war profiteers come to see a profit motive in peace (whether or not including the reduction of war taxes) sufficient to invest in it? And to invest in it through the campaign contributions formerly known as bribery at a greater pace than the war mongers? Or can the profitability of peace be created by making advocacy for peace a public relations benefit for corporate images? I do not know, but am all for attempting it, at least up to the point where it becomes prioritization of lobbying our corporate overlords over demanding that their wealth be taxed away and put to good use.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of and campaign coordinator for Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at and He hosts Talk Nation Radio.He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.
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